The 2021-22 season has been a breakthrough campaign for the Purdue Fort Wayne men’s basketball team. Coach Jon Coffman’s team won 10 straight in February and March to set a Division I program record and claim a share of the Horizon League regular season crown in only its second year in the league. the conference.
But the Mastodons didn’t achieve their ultimate goal: they fell to Northern Kentucky in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Now, with the return of seven of its top eight scorers – only Jalon Pipkins has moved on – PFW are aiming to make history again.
“Last year was a phenomenal year, huge success, we had a great process,” said Coffman, who is entering his ninth season with PFW and recently signed a contract extension to keep him in Fort Wayne until in 2029-2030. “We just had a lot of guys stepping up and great energy in the dressing room. … These guys are going to have an advantage knowing that this year, this tournament (NCAA), these guys feel like they’re hungry for that.
“But it’s a long season and there will be adversity as we go through it. We have to be able to handle that and play our best basketball at the end of the year.
This long season officially began last week, when the Mastodons began training ahead of their Nov. 7 opener against Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The PFW women’s basketball team, entering its second year under Elmhurst graduate Maria Marchesano, is also back on the training ground and is banking on an improvement from last season.
After the Mastodons won just once in 2020-21, they won nine times last season, although that included two COVID-induced forfeits. Marchesano then caused a stir in the offseason by adding Homestead graduate Sydney Graber, winner of the Journal Gazette’s 2020 Tiffany Gooden Award, who was traded from Central Michigan.
The Mastodons haven’t finished better than .500 in over a decade, but Marchesano thinks a leap forward can be made this season.
“The cool thing about this group is that it’s not just about my expectations, it’s them expecting themselves,” Marchesano said. “They want to be great and you saw that in the summer (in training). … Those expectations come with a bit of weight on your shoulders, but I think this band wants it and they’re ready for it.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had those kinds of expectations here and it’s really exciting.”
The Marchesano team bring back their top eight scorers, including Homestead graduate Sylare Starks and their team-best 11.7 points per game, and add high school teammate in the 6-foot-1 Graber, as well as a quartet of freshmen.
“It’s super exciting to try to create a culture,” said Graber, who played on an NCAA Tournament team at Central Michigan in 2020-21. “We are ready to take big steps this year and we all want to be part of growing the culture. We all buy into what (coaches) say and try to be the best version of ourselves we can be.
For Coffman’s team, the challenge will be to stay focused despite the rigors of a long season. Particular emphasis will be placed on preparing for the tournament and ensuring that PFW can win ugly, if their 3-point heavy offense doesn’t fire on all cylinders.
“I think it’s just enjoying (the season) together,” forward Johnathan Dejurnett said. “We have four super-seniors in their last season and they just set the tone, like taking one game at a time. That’s what we did last year in February before March, we sat down as a team and said, “We’re going to take each game one by one and in the end, whatever happens.” We’re bringing back pretty much the same mentality this year.